Location: Kenscoff, Haiti

Dates: 5th-21st November 2016

Background and Brief

At the local time of 16:53 on 12th January 2010 an earthquake of magnitude 7.0 (and 0.5g PGA), hit one of the most densely populated suburbs of Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince. An estimated three million people were affected by the quake. 250,000 residences, 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed, a million people homeless and 316,000 people dead. One month later an earthquake 500 times more powerful, hit central Chile resulting in the deaths of 525. The earthquake of 2010, was a disaster of Haiti’s lack of lightweight building materials, working practices, and construction, not nature.

The 4th October this year saw the category 4 Hurricane Matthew sweep through the South West of Haiti tearing at roofs, dumping water to destabilise the landscape, and causing devastation. As the storm battered the shutters and people huddled in doors the radio sets resounded with two dialogues. The first suggested that the metal and wooden roofs that blew off could be substituted by heavy concrete. The second sought to rightly blame the floods, the devastation and the death toll on a broken ecology, bad buildings and deforestation. It is this second argument the fourth installment of the AA Haiti Visiting School wants to amplify.

We will work alongside the local community and offer trainings to fix roofing and retrofit houses. Locally grown bamboo protected many houses during the storm and this strong construction material is our material of choice to provide a sustainable alternative to steadying the landscape, creating planted wind barriers and building safe strong structures.

Participants can participate in a course which brings together cutting edge modelling and testing software in order to:

  • Efficiently design and CFD test roof structures for different house dimensions.
  • Model the surrounding terrain to provide planting strategies for wind breaking plants such as bamboo.
  • Provide the material and the opportunity for local homeowners to build their own roofs whilst learning a new skill.

Over the course of the 5 weeks we invite participants to join us for a long as they wish to be part of the project. Each participant will be given a ‘kay’ or home which along with the householder will be assessed as a case study to develop. We see this course as a tapestry of bamboo construction knowledge, cutting edge software, and land stewardship techniques, woven together as a powerful long term force to drive sustainable resilient housing, reforestation and define the value of the architect.

There will be keynote lectures on everything from crop diversification, land stabilisation and the history and culture of Haitian building typologies. Ongoing bamboo construction expertise will expose participants to:

  • Taxonomy and species types indigenous to Haiti and the region
  • Cutting, treatments and drying
  • Tools
  • Joinery techniques
  • Site safety and equipment
  • Working as part of a construction team

We will also learn how planting strategies can become symbiotic elements of both an urban or rural home in Haiti. We see these retrofitted homes addressing a critical need on the personal level, but inspiring a wider conversation about the role of lightweight materials and reforestation.

We will be assisting the local community in repairing their homes after the category four hurricane Matthew hit the south west of Haiti causing structural damage to many homes not in the hurricane area. Therefore, embedded into this course we will be looking at what we and participants can offer in the way of construction training workshops and structural input for effected homes. As a parallel brief we will be asking you to survey and create case studies from the effected homes in order to articulate what needs to be repaired. Using software knowledge which will be intensively taught you will develop a means of adapting a roofing system to different shapes and dimension of home and use CFD software to test, using this to also devise site specific planting strategies to protect the terrain from landslides and create future wind barriers. Following this we will all be working with the householders to learn together the construction techniques in efficiently rebuilding the roof.




No damage to local economy

We are aware that by showing people how to build roofing we could be giving skills away for free to members of the community, whilst other members make a livelihood from doing exactly those techniques. So therefore we want to make sure that we train the local craftsmen and roof builders along the way. Participants will be working with local community members who will be covered by an appropriate daily salary which will allow their attendance as they may not be able to afford to leave their jobs to attended.



The hurricane has caused untold devastation to a section of the country. However, where we are based is in Kenscoff. What we feel Haiti needs especially now is to seize this moment and take the chance to show that it is not as the international news shows, but a country with rich biodiversity, untold potential and with this course is based in this narrative. Through lectures and participants’ portfolios, this course will be one of positive architectural experimentation with long term beneficial consequences. A model of applying the discourse, the tools and the methodology of an architectural education, into a model applicable across the developing world for the most in need.




The Preconception we are trying to Reverse

In much of the developing world materials such as timber and bamboo are especially perceived as having connotations of poverty and representing the rural life in which much of the developing world’s urban populations have escaped from, in only one generation. These are then substituted for concrete and steel rebar in an effort to promote a ‘modern’ aesthetic however with low rates of literacy and skilled engineering input, these buildings are often very precariously engineered, climatically intolerable, incompetently built, and extremely carbon intensive. Not to mention that in areas of hurricane and seismic vulnerability, these structures are at best totally inadequate and at worst deadly. This concrete 21st Century developing world vernacular does not just burden a family budget on a macro level, but often the materials must be imported from more developed economies maintaining a post-colonial strangle hold on an international level.


­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Process and Methodology – Designing, Testing, Building

The methodology we are asking you to consider on your projects, will act as a blueprint to gather information, design and then provide a feedback loop for your group to evaluate the design at all stages of the process.

Taken from: Culture, Cash and Housing: Community and Tradition in Low-income Building by Maurice Mitchell and Andy Bevan

Identify the problem (In class through discussion and on the site visit)

  • As seen by local people;
  • As seen by the local government;
  • As seen by you.

Establish boundaries (In class through discussion and consultation with tutors)

  • Local services and economic conditions;
  • What is the time scale, what are your abilities?
  • What are your resources?
  • What other resources can be acquired. We are here to assist you with what we have.

List a range of possible solutions (Using your own knowledge, ideas and research with the support of tutors)

  • What are the scientific principals?
  • What are the local or imported materials available?
  • Identify the materials and available by testing, from what you can read, and observing local use on site.
  • What skills are available locally?
  • What skills are new and can be easily acquired?
  • How are skills communicated? Verbally, demonstration, drawing?
  • How can you communicate not just a new technique but a new material?
  • What are the side-effects of your proposed solution?
  • How do you measure success?

Design, build, test and assess (Feedback loop for yourself and then used as an assessment criteria)

  • Discuss, demonstrate and involve. Everyone should be made aware of your output and your process.
  • Does it work based on your own assessment criteria? (Answering NO, does not always have to mean failure)
    • Does it solve the problem? Why?
    • Is it the simplest solution? Why?
    • Is it safe and reliable? Why?
    • Will it last long enough? How long and why?
    • Can this first design be improved? How?

 ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Proposed Evaluation Process

Each of these headings must also be referenced in your work.

  • Local, Social and Cultural considerations – How are you addressing the needs of the occupiers on an individual and societal level?
  • Climate – How does your design respond to the climate of Haiti in order to make the house a comfortable dwelling for the occupants?
  • Techniques and Materials – What prior skills/materials are you utilising and what new knowledge/materials are you implementing?
  • Typology – What makes this a home in the context of Haiti?
  • Economy – Can it provide new job opportunities from the skills needed in construction?
  • Site – How does your design respond to what you observed onsite? How does your design fit into the wider dialogue of re-establishing lightweight materials in Haitian construction?